While interest groups are still weighing options to launch private prosecutions for the wanton corruption and a string of irregularities bordering on illegality raised by the Auditor General in her COVID-19 audit report, experts say as things stand, the only hope for the nation to get justice is for the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to recommend serious sanctions against the perpetrators, and the executives who in this case are also perpetrators, to impose those.
A long time former government legal advisor, Nchunga Nchunga, told this publication that the corruption and illegalities uncovered by the Auditor General will be dealt with by the PAC which may take further steps to recommend appropriate action.
“Generally, the Public Accounts Committee deals with all queries raised by the Auditor General or recommends appropriate action. Private prosecution is not easy but is possible,” Nchunga, who now runs a private legal practice, said.
The PAC examines the value for money of government projects, programmes and service delivery, drawing on the work of the National Audit Office, and the Committee holds government officials to account for the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of public spending.
However, despite been an aggressive bulldog, the committee also has a reputation as a toothless dog that cannot do much with the information it uncovers when examining public accounts, owing to the deliberate emaciation of state institutions by the executive.
For a very long time now, the committee’s role has been restricted to just criticising accounting officers but has failed to impose sanctions on those found criminally or morally liable. The committee is at the mercy of the executive which decides whether to act on its (PAC) recommendations or not.
After examination of public books after every financial year, the PAC makes a report to Parliament with recommendations. It is then up to the executive to decide whether to take action on the PAC recommendations or not.
If action is not taken, the PAC keeps on reporting the matter on and on through what is known as the Memorandum of Progress. This means looking at the issues previously raised in the last PAC meeting and reporting to Parliament on them if no action has been taken. Calls for Botswana to emulate advanced democracies where PACs do not only report to Parliament but also have powers to follow up issues, it seems, have fallen on deaf ears.
Can the executive act?
The executive, which has always been accused by the opposition of using the COVID-19 pandemic to loot, finds itself in a tight space to act on their corruption after denying that there was corruption ongoing when alarms were raised.
The Auditor General Pulane Letebele’s 116-page audit report, which was tabled before Parliament recently, provides sordid details of how government millions were wasted and lays bare countless irregularities, some of which border on illegality.
According to a highly placed government official, President Mokgweetsi Masisi has read the report but is not likely to take action because he was warned and never listened. “Action by the executive is tantamount to a man taking a rope and hanging himself in this case because the President is to some extent implicated,” said our source.
The rot goes so deep that even the appointment of the Task Force by the President was irregular, according to the Auditor General. Collectively, as of 31st August 2020, the Task Force was paid close to P2 million whilst its Coordinator Dr Kereng Masupu is on a fixed-term contract of P 1,217,136. “His Excellency the President appointed the Presidential Task Force members. However, the appointment letters did not specify the legal provisions upon which they were made,” Letebele says in her report.
The Auditor General further cautions the government that there were two members of the Task Force who were to be in kind support services but were somehow illegally paid by the government.
“The payment of P165 600 was irregular and thus a loss to the Government. The other payment under consideration would also result in loss to the government should it be honoured,” the Auditor General said, further urging the government to account for the payment. Letebele further said some inexperienced companies grabbed tenders at inflated prices but failed to deliver.
Opposition move to oust Masisi
The opposition has said Masisi is not fit to lead as he presides over a corrupt government. For some time now, the opposition has been seeking to remove him through motions of no confidence. The opposition, however, has been struggled to amass the right numbers to achieve their ambition as members of the ruling party have not been so eager to lend support to the move. Historically, the ruling party’s Members of Parliament hardly ever tag teams with the opposition, no matter how disgruntled with the leadership they may be.